Monday, October 1, 2012

Disney's Tangled

Tangled happens to be the first Disney animated film that I saw in theaters since The Emperor's New Groove, so I was kind of out of the game for awhile. Is it weird that out of all the films that were made between these movies that I chose a princess movie? Not at all. While some of the other films may be considered more manly, they sucked, and I knew it just by watching previews. I had a good feeling about Tangled ever since I watched the trailer for it, and I wasn't disappointed.  I'd like to think that I have a pretty good taste in movies, though that may be my conceited side coming out. Anyway, I think what also contributed to the long absence of Disney movie watching was the fact that I was in high school and the early years of college when most of the movies came out. Once I was in high school it wasn't cool to like Disney movies anymore, or like Pokemon, or a bunch of other things I was so used to at that point. So I stopped going. I remember being interested in seeing The Princess and the Frog, but for one reason or another I just didn't get around to it. I think that Tangled truly took Disney back to its 90's roots; having a princess movie based on a fairy tale, but also extremely funny. I have become nostalgic in my old age and seeing something more like the movies of my childhood really spoke to me. Like I said, I really liked the movie and consider it one of my favorites, not just because of the good story, but because it is probably one of the funniest Disney movies ever. Hercules, Aladdin, and The Emperor's New Groove are some of my favorite Disney movies, and the reason is because they are hilarious. I identify with comedic movies, give me a break! Was I a little surprised that Tangled was so funny? Yes, but I had an inkling that it would be much more than movies like Brother Bear or Home on the Range. Blech. I'm hoping that Disney is turning over a new leaf and this is what we can now expect from them.

Tangled is of course based off of the famous Brother's Grimm tale of Rapunzel. Grimm's tale coincidentally is somewhat based off of the French story Persinette, and the 10th century Persian story of Rudaba. In the story of Rapunzel, a couple live next to an enchantress, whose house and garden are walled off from the outside world. The wife feels that she is becoming pregnant, and at the same time begins to pine for a rapunzel plant that is growing in the enchantress' garden. Her husband decides to get her some of the plant and successfully breaks into the enchantress garden two nights in a row. On the third night, however, the enchantress catches the husband and accuses him of theft. He begs for mercy and the enchantress, named Dame Gothel, decides to be lenient. She will let him go, but all he has to do is give her the couple's child once it is born. Out of desperation the husband agrees and scampers back to his house. Once the baby is born, she is given to Dame Gothel and lives a solitary life there. Ironically, Dame Gothel names the baby Rapunzel, who eventually grows up to be the most beautiful child in the world, with long golden hair. Once Rapunzel reached her twelfth birthday, Dame Gothel locked her up in a solitary tower, with no door or stairs. All it had was one window and one room. When Dame Gothel wanted to visit Rapunzel, she would call out her name and ask her to let down her extremely long golden hair. Don't worry, she tied it around a hook first so she wasn't literally having some old hag's complete weight on her hair.

A prince is riding through the forest one day and hears Rapunzel's lovely singing, so he goes over to her tower to investigate. He quickly realizes that he won't be able to gain easy access to the tower so he comes back everyday to find out if there is a secret. He eventually sees the enchantress approach the the tower, thus finding out how to enter. Once the enchantress leaves, he calls out for Rapunzel to let down her hair. Apparently Rapunzel doesn't check to see who is climbing up, and is not at all concerned with the fact that whoever is calling her has a much deeper voice than the enchantress. The prince climbs up and surprises Rapunzel, quickly asking her to marry him. She agrees and they hatch a plan to help her escape. He will come back every night when the enchantress is not around and give her some silk so that she may make a ladder. Fool proof! Their plan doesn't work out, however, as she accidentally reveals that she is pregnant by saying absentmindedly that her dress is feeling tighter. Dame Gothel goes bananas and cuts off Rapunzel's hair. She then forces Rapunzel to climb down her detached hair and live in the woods. Geez, and you thought you'd be in trouble if you got pregnant at a young age. The prince comes back that night, not knowing of what transpired and calls out for Rapunzel to let down her hair. He climbs the hair like usual and lo and behold, it's not Rapunzel but some shriveled hag. After what I can only assume was a bunch of cackling and a few corny one-liners, she pushes the prince out the window, who falls onto some thorns, causing him to lose his eyesight (In some versions he falls out of surprise, and in others, when he falls, the detached hair falls with him, thus stranding the old woman in the tower). He wanders the forest, blind I might add, and I'm sure ran into his fair share of trees. Then he hears the most wonderful thing in the world, the sound of Rapunzel's singing. He follows the singing to her and her twins whom she had apparently given birth to recently. Wait a minute...how long was she in the woods? How long was he wondering blindly? Months? Oh man, this is weird! They embrace and her tears magically heal his eyes. They run off to his kingdom and live happily ever after. So...happy ending, right? What's the moral supposed to be? Don't steal plants? Always ask your realtor if an enchantress lives close by? Be good at hiding your pregnancy? Tangled doesn't exactly follow the same story line  Sure there's the enchantress that steals Rapunzel, and the man that saves her, but this is not a prince, but a thief. And, in this version, her hair is magic. It heals people and makes them young, which is why the enchantress is so interested in her.

Tangled was in production for about six years and went through a few changes along the way, the most notorious being the name of the film. When the idea first came up to do a Rapunzel story, Disney called it "Rapunzel Unbraided." Not bad, but not exactly good. It was quickly changed to just Rapunzel. It would have probably stayed with that title had The Princess and the Frog did better in the box office. Apparently $270 million worldwide was not good enough for Disney and they considered The Princess and the Frog to be a little bit of a letdown. Who was the culprit? Girls. Disney had spent all the money on a princess movie and all that saw it were a bunch of girls! Or so they believed. Guys apparently didn't go to see The Princess and the Frog, so Disney decided to change the focus of their next movie. Instead of calling it Rapunzel, they would call it...oh I don't know, I'm just spit-balling here....Tangled! Yeah, that's the ticket! Disney announced that they were changing the name to Tangled and people started to call shenanigans on them. Justin Chang of Variety claimed it was about the same as The Little Mermaid changing its name to "Beached." Disney was also  accused of sexism, among other things. To put it plainly, people weren't too happy about the change. What's the name of the movie now? That's right, it's still Tangled, which means Disney didn't give a crap about what people thought about them. The directors of the film, Nathan Greno and Byron Howard,  defended the name change by saying it was a marketing decision. The film was about Rapunzel and Flynn Rider, therefore it should be given a title that didn't put one character above the other. They likened it to calling Toy Story, "Buzz Lightyear."

The film has a very unique animation style due to the fact that it incorporates the best parts of both CGI and traditional hand-drawn animation. Yes, It is a CGI film, but the look of it is modeled after the look of oil paintings on canvas. The Rococo paintings of French artist Jean-Honore Fragonard, particularly The Swing, were used as reference for the film's artistic style, a style described as lush and romantic. To create the impression of a painting, non-photorealistic rendering was used. Think of cel-shaded animation, like what they used in Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. On top of the stellar animation, the movie also had some pretty good music. I'm glad Disney is trying to keep this new trend going. The score of the film was done by who else by Alan Menken, and the lyrics done by Glenn Slater. Menken decided to have a mix of medieval music and 1960's folk rock to give the movie a broad appeal. So there are a few songs that stand out in the movie, like "I See the Light," "When Will My Life Begin," and "I've Got a Dream." Since Mandy Moore does the voice of Rapunzel, and Zachary Levi does Rider, they sang their own songs. Not too often that the voice actors are able to pull off the singing too, but they deliver. I knew Levi could sing, but I didn't know he could sing that well. While the songs are by no means on the level as any in Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King, they are still excellent and sure to please.

This movie doesn't really have a large cast of characters, and the ones it does have aren't voiced by famous people for the most part. Like I mentioned before, you have the very talented Mandy Moore (A Walk To Remember) as Rapunzel, and Zachary Levi (Chuck) as Flynn Rider. They are beyond perfect for their roles.  Maybe even more so for Zachery Levi. I may just love him from his role on Chuck, but I think he was most of the reason the movie was so funny (him, Pascal, and Maximus the horse. Note to Disney: Horses are funny. I don't know why, but they are. That includes winged ones.) Donna Murphy (The King and I) voices Mother Gothel, the villianness of the story. She's also great in the movie, with her highlight being her song "Mother Knows Best." These three were not the original choices for the roles, however. At the very beginning, it was planned that Kristen Chenoweth would voice Rapunzel, Dan Fogler voice Rider, and Grey DeLisle voice Mother Gothel. For whatever reason, Disney decided to go a little bit younger, and hipper, and went with the current cast. Other well known actors in the movie include Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond), Ron Perlman (Hellboy) and Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development), all of whom play thugs at the Snuggly Duckling Inn.

Tangled was released on my birthday, November 24th in 2010 and earned a whopping $11.9 million on that Wednesday, breaking the record for a pre-Thanksgiving release. It went on to gross $590 million worldwide, against a $260 million budget. Tangled still stands as the most expensive animated movie ever made, and the second most expensive movie ever. Disney really put themselves on the line with this one, and thank God it paid off. With its gross, it is the second highest grossing Disney movie, only behind The Lion King. Critics loved the film, saying that though it may not be the best Disney film ever, it is still visually stunning, and a thoroughly entertaining edition to Disney's canon. Most criticism was leveled at the unmemorable songs and the perceived marketing ploy of the name change.

Tangled is a worthy addition to the Disney canon in my opinion, and I believe on of the modern classics. It may not be Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, but that's not really what people want these days. They want humor, and action in their movies. Tangled has tons of it, and I think that boys and girls can like the movie. Sure, the name change thing was probably done to get boys interested, but you can hardly blame Disney. If a name change was all that stood in the way of an extra $300 million, you bet they would do it. So we are very close to the end of my history of the Disney canon. All there is left is Winnie the Pooh, which I can guarantee will be a short one, then Wreck-It-Ralph, which has yet to come out.  After that I will move on to other movie topics, so I hope my Disney readers are not too disappointed.

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